The big issue with wind farms is how far turbines should be from houses.
This debate continues in Livingston County.
Currently, its setback distance for wind turbines is at least 1,200 feet from homes. La Salle County’s is the same.
In Livingston County, officials are considering raising the setback to 1,600 feet. Some in the county’s southern part are looking to increase it to 4,000. At nearly a mile, such a distance might effectively shut out wind farm development.
“Wind farms will have less interest with distances over 4,000 feet,” said Chuck Schopp, the county’s zoning administrator.
As it is, most sites in the county would have homes within 4,000 feet, he said.
One of the ideas is to conduct a countywide referendum on setback distances and figure out which townships want longer ones. Officials, though, aren’t sure whether they could have different setbacks around the county, so they have requested an opinion on the issue from the state’s attorney general.
The county’s zoning board of appeals plans to conduct public hearings starting late this month or early next, Schopp said.
County Board member Bill Flott, R-Dwight, chairman of the agriculture and zoning committee, hopes to get the matter taken care of soon so the county can put the setback issue on the November ballot.
The results of the referendum, he said, would be a major consideration in establishing setback distances around the county, although factors such as housing density would be important as well.
‘Afraid to be vocal’
In 2010, voters in three northern Livingston County townships – Newtown, Sudbury and Nevada – rejected two ballot initiatives opposed by the wind industry. One initiative asked township trustees to pass a resolution to stop the construction of new wind turbines before 2015. The other was a proposition requiring property value guarantee plans for properties within two miles of new wind farm construction.
In many places, neighbors of wind farms complain about their noise, vibrations and shadow flicker. They also say they hurt the rural character of their neighborhoods.
The wind farm industry often recommends setback distances closer than 1,000 feet, arguing turbines pose no dangers to neighbors.
Judy Campbell, a former County Board member who lives in Manville, said the board respects that Pleasant Ridge Township residents in the southern part of the county strongly resist wind farms. But she said the belief is such development may be more welcome in northern Livingston County.
In the Dwight area, Campbell said, absentee landowners favor wind farms because they can make money allowing turbines on their properties. But they aren’t around to suffer the consequences, she said.
“The county is not hearing from all residents in the Dwight area,” Campbell said. “A lot of times, people are afraid to be vocal. I want to get the word out that there will be public hearings.”
Campbell likes the idea of finding out what people want.
“My concern is that by the time it gets to referendum, wind companies will have huge budgets for PR,” Campbell said. “They’ll be asking school districts to help them.”
School superintendents often support wind projects, because they mean a big infusion of property tax money, although the amount declines over time as turbines depreciate.
Flott, the County Board member from Dwight, has turbines near his house, but they don’t bother him.
“I have voted for wind turbines, and I have voted against them,” he said. “I’m pretty open-minded.”
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